Photograph and Text ©John P. Walsh
SEA OF FLAGS, 2004, 2500 West Division Street, Chicago (Humboldt Park) by Gamaliel Ramirez (b. 1949) with the assistance of community members.
The mural entitled Sea of Flags depicts Fiesta Boricua (De Bandera a Bandera), an annual 3-day music and cultural event in the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. Attracting tens of thousands of visitors, the fiesta is held starting in late August or early September. In 2018 the Fiesta Boricua celebrated its 25th anniversary and offered 3 stages booked back to back with scores of musical and cultural performers specializing in the pulsating rhythms of Puerto Rican salsa, reggaeton, bomba, plena, and merengue music, and more.
Some of the famous people depicted in the mural Sea of Flags include Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebrón (1919-2010), Nuyorican (“New York City/Puerto Rican”) poet and playwright Pedro Pietri (1944-2004) and, depicted as a bronze statue on the image’s left side, Don Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965), the leading figure in the Puerto Rican independence movement.
An abundance of Puerto Rican flags in the mural is intentional by the artist and his assistants. Since Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American War — and ceded the Philippines and the island of Guam at the same time — Puerto Rico and the U.S. have had a complicated political relationship that is yet to be completely mutually resolved today.
Gamaliel Ramirez was born in the Bronx in New York in 1949. He spent most of his career in Chicago teaching and as a working artist. After 35 years in Chicago he retired to Santa Rita, San Juan, Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria in September 2017, Mr. Ramirez was hospitalized for many months and passed away on May 21, 2018. The artist of this colorful mural has left behind for us a legacy of paintings, other murals, photography and poetry.